If a Mexican taco and a grilled cheese got together and made a baby, it would be this birria tacos recipe. Tender beef and melty cheese is folded into a crispy tortilla and dipped in a deliciously rich birria sauce. These Birria Tacos will be the best thing you’ve eaten all year.
Why This Recipe Works
This is one of those recipes that is incredible from start to finish. These birria tacos are a complete food experience and here’s why.
- The smell is reason alone to make this recipe. The heavenly aroma that fills the kitchen is truthfully one of the best things I have ever smelled.
- Once you take your first bite, the heavens will open and you will hear angels sing. This recipe has all the flavors. It is sweet, savory, sour, and deliciously rich with the tiniest bit of spice. All of these flavors are perfectly balanced and compliment one another in the best way.
- Crispy, gooey, saucy perfection. Textures can make or break a recipe. I can say with absolute confidence, the combination of textures in these tacos MAKE this recipe.
- They are a feast for the eyes. The colors of the tortillas, sauce, shredded beef, and fresh toppings are STUNNING. Bright golden orange, deep reds, rich browns, and bit of bright green. Talk about a showstopper.
- Tacos and margaritas… need I say more?
Tacos and Birria FAQ
Tacos and birria originated as two entirely separate dishes. Birria is a traditional Mexican dish. It is technically a meat stew but let me tell you. I’ve never had a meat stew that tastes like the magic that is birria.
Essentially, you make the most deliciously flavorful sauce to ever exist. Then you braise meat in that sauce until the meat is perfectly tender and falling apart. That’s birria!
Then one day, someone whom I consider to be a culinary genius, decided to coat a tortilla with birria sauce, stuff it with the shredded birria meat, sprinkle on some cheese, and then then fry it to crispy golden perfection.
Birria tacos were born!
Dried guajillo chiles are very common and easy to find at most grocery stores. These chiles are generally found in the Mexican/International section of your local grocery store. However, on several occasions I’ve also seen them in little displays by the fresh produce.
Guajillo chiles are relatively mild and don’t add much spice but they do add a ton of flavor.
Yes! Complete the recipe through step 4 of the Birria Part 2 – Meat section of instructions. Store the shredded beef in a sealed container with a few spoonfuls of the birria sauce. Then store the remaining birria sauce separately in a sealed container.
The sauce will partially solidify in the fridge which is normal. Simply heat is back up in a pan when you are ready to use it!
Generally, the spice level is very mild but it entirely depends on the recipe. This particular recipe includes dried guajillo chiles and chipotle peppers in adobo.
Dried guajillo chiles are relatively mild and actually have a slightly sweet smokey flavor. The seeds are by far the spiciest part of the pepper. Because this recipe has you remove the seeds, there is very little heat from these peppers.
Chipotle peppers in adobo are spicy but not so spicy they will burn your face off. The chipotle peppers in this recipe do add a small amount of spiciness to the dish.
Unless you are particularly sensitive to spice, the spice level of this recipe will not be a problem. If you sensitive to spice, simply use half the amount of chipotle peppers in adobo or omit it altogether.
Note – Depending on how it is prepared and consumed there are a variety of terms associated with birria such as consommé, broth, stew, soup, etc. but we are going to skip the technical terms.
Essentially birria is comprised of shredded meat and the sauce the meat was braised in. For simplicity sake we will call the meat, meat, and the sauce, sauce.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Dried guajillo chiles are very mild, easy to find, and easy to use. I promise!
- These chiles are either found in the Mexican/International section of your local grocery store or by the dried herbs and spices. I also frequently see them in little displays by the produce.
- If you can’t find dried guajillo chiles, dried ancho chiles can be used as a substitute.
- I recommend using a chuck roast because it’s a good option for slow cooking and shredding.
- Cut the chuck roast into 4-6 equal sized pieces. This speeds up the cooking process and helps the meat cook more evenly.
- Ensure the short ribs are bone-in because they add amazing flavor. Other bone-in options can be used such as oxtail or beef shank.
- The oil will be used to sear the meat. Therefore, use an oil with a high smoke point like vegetable, canola, or avocado oil.
- If you don’t have cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon can be used as a substitute. For every cinnamon stick, use 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Therefore, use 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon because this recipe calls for two cinnamon sticks.
- If you want to go all out, use Mexican cinnamon sticks.
- Although a variety of shredded cheeses can be used, Oaxaca cheese is the most authentic option for this particular recipe. The closest alternative to Oaxaca cheese is good old fashioned shredded mozzarella.
The recipe is separated into three sections to make it easy to follow and quick to reference.
- Birria Part 1 – Sauce
- Birria Part 2 – Meat
- Taco Assembly
1. Birria Part 1 – Sauce
- Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chiles and soak them in warm water for 15 minutes. This softens the chiles and makes them easier to blend.
- Blend all the Birria Part 1 – Sauce Ingredients until smooth and you’re done with the Birria Sauce section!
2. Birria Part 2 – Meat
- Sear the meat in a Dutch oven or large pot. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside.
- Sauté the onions and garlic in the same pot. Make sure to reduce the heat the low and allow the pot to cool for a couple minutes after searing the meat!
- Add the Birria Sauce, beef broth, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and meat to the pot. Bring to a simmer. Then cover with an oven-proof lid and put in the oven for 3 hours.
- Shred the meat once done cooking and very tender.
3. Taco Assembly
- Dip a tortilla in the sauce and place in a hot skillet.
- Add some cheese and meat to the tortilla.
- Fold the tortilla in half and cook until both sides are golden and crispy. Kind of like a taco grilled cheese hybrid.
- Serve with a side of the Birria Sauce for dipping and fresh toppings (optional).
My Top Tips For Birria Tacos
Grocery Shopping Tip – In my experience, short ribs from local Hispanic or Mexican markets are usually very good and significantly cheaper than other grocery stores.
Prep Tip – When it comes time to assemble and fry the tacos, it goes pretty fast. So, make sure you have all the ingredients and tools you need ready to go and within reach. It’ll make everything a lot easier!
Assembly Tip – When assembling and frying the tacos, sprinkle the cheese over the entire tortilla but only put the meat on half of the tortilla. This makes it easy to fold the tacos over without a bunch of meat spilling out while still surrounding both sides of the meat with melty gooey cheese.
Storage Tip – Even though the meat is braised/cooked in the sauce, I recommend storing the meat and sauce in separate containers in the fridge. You can add a few spoonfuls of the sauce to the shredded meat container to keep it juicy but too much sauce just makes assembling future tacos a big saucy mess!
Frying Tip – If you are making a bunch of tacos at once, put the tacos on a baking sheet in a single layer and keep them in a 200˚F oven until you’re ready to eat. This will keep them warm and crispy while you make the rest of the tacos!
Looking for more taco recipes? We love all tacos at Zested Lemon. Below are a few of my favorites! If you really want to go all out, add in a batch of margaritas! Try my blueberry margaritas or jalapeño margaritas. They are to die for!
How to Make Birria Tacos
Watch the quick how-to video below!
Birria Part 1 – Sauce Ingredients:
- 10 dried guajillo chiles, (see note 1)
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- 7 oz. can of chipotle peppers in adobo, about 6 peppers
- 1/3 cup white vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 1 tsp. salt
Birria Part 2 – Meat Ingredients:
- 3 lb. chuck roast, cut into 4-6 pieces
- 2 lb. bone-in short ribs, (see note 2)
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 1 Tbsp. oil for frying, (see note 3)
- 1 onion, diced
- 10 cloves of garlic, peeled & minced
- 4 cups beef broth
- 2 cinnamon sticks, (see note 4)
- 4 bay leaves
- 24-32 small tortillas
- 2 cups shredded Oaxaca cheese, or shredded mozzarella cheese
- fresh cilantro, optional topping
- red onion, optional topping
- lime wedges, optional topping
Birria Part 1 – Sauce:
- Remove the stems and seeds from the dried guajillo chiles. Then soak the chiles in warm water for 15 minutes or until softened.
- Once the peppers have softened, put all the Birria Part 1 – Sauce Ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend the sauce until smooth. Set aside.
Birria Part 2 – Meat:
- Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Season all sides of roast and short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven (see note 5 & 6) over medium/high heat. Working in batches, sear all sides of the meat. Once seared, removed the meat and set aside.
- Immediately reduce the heat to low and allow the Dutch oven to cool for a minute or two. Add a little more oil if needed and sauté the diced onion until lightly brown. Then add the garlic and cook for an addition minute.
- Add the Birria Sauce, beef broth, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and meat to the Dutch oven. Increase the heat and bring to a simmer. Cover with an oven-proof lid and transfer to the preheated oven (see note 6) for 3 hours, or until the meat is tender and falling apart .
- Remove the meat from the sauce. Shred the meat with two forks and set aside. Remove the bones, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves from the sauce and discard.
- Put a skillet over medium heat. Dip the tortilla in the top layer of the sauce and immediately place in the preheated skillet.
- Sprinkle some of the shredded cheese over the entire tortilla. Then add some of the shredded meat to 1/2 of the tortilla.
- Use a spatula to fold the tortilla in half to make a taco. Cook for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden and crispy.
- Serve with a side of the Birria Sauce for dipping. Garnish with fresh cilantro, red onion and lime wedges if desired.